Without question, Lake O’Hara is one of the most beautiful spots in the Canadian Rockies. As you approach Lake O’Hara for the first time, the intimate, peaceful setting and sheer magnitude of the majestic surrounding mountains will take your breath away.
Located in Yoho National Park in British Columbia, just minutes west of Banff National Park, the Lake O’Hara area is also one of the hardest places to visit in the Canadian Rockies. With tightly controlled visitation limits, those wishing to visit Lake O’Hara must either be very lucky (winning the draw for a bus ticket) or very determined (hiking the 11 km access road).
Read on to discover the different ways you can visit Lake O’Hara and the many things you can do there. The hiking at Lake O’Hara is second-to-none, but there are also many relaxing pursuits as well for those lucky enough to lay eyes on her.
Visiting Lake O'Hara in Yoho National Park
- Directions to the Lake O’Hara Parking Lot
- 4 Ways To Get to Lake O’Hara
- Facilities at Lake O’Hara, Yoho National Park
- 3 Places to Stay at Lake O’Hara
- Lake O’Hara Hiking Season
- Lake O’Hara Hiking Trails
- The 6 Main Lakes of the Lake O’Hara Area
- What to Bring to Lake O’Hara
- Lake O’Hara FAQ
- The Best of the Canadian Rockies
This post contains compensated links.
Directions to the Lake O’Hara Parking Lot
The large Lake O’Hara parking lot is 13 km east of Field, British Columbia and 12 km west of Lake Louise, Alberta. See the Lake O’Hara shuttle bus parking lot on Google Maps.
The drive from Calgary to the Lake O’Hara parking lot is about 2 hours and 15 minutes. It’s a beautiful drive along the TransCanada Highway through Banff National Park. To make your scenic drive to Lake O’Hara even more enjoyable, we recommend you pick up the Gypsy Guide audio tour of Banff National Park.
Tip: Ensure that you have purchased, and are displaying, a valid Parks Canada pass on the windshield of your car. With so many Parks Canada employees around the parking lot, you can bet they will regularly be checking for passes.
4 Ways To Get to Lake O’Hara
Just because you can get to the parking lot, doesn’t mean you can actually visit Lake O’Hara. To preserve the pristine wilderness environment, Yoho National Park limits daily visitation to approximately 200 visitors a day across all four methods of getting to the lake.
1) Lake O’Hara Shuttle Bus
How to Get a Lake O’Hara Shuttle Bus Reservation
Getting a reservation on the Lake O’Hara shuttle bus is not easy. Due to the overwhelming popularity of the area, Parks Canada holds a lottery for shuttle bus reservations.
The steps to get a Lake O’Hara shuttle bus reservation are:
1) Check to see when Parks Canada opens up the shuttle bus lottery. The lottery entry dates are usually in spring (March) and are open for a month.
2) Enter the Lake O’Hara shuttle bus lottery. You will be asked for your preferred dates and the number of people in your group. Note, that it is costs money to enter the shuttle bus lottery. The money spent to enter the draw is non-refundable, even if you don’t win a shuttle bus ticket.
3) The shuttle bus draw typically takes place the day after the lottery closes. Successful applicants are notified immediately and are given 15 days to confirm their reservation online.
4) If you were an unsuccessful lottery applicant (and most of us are), you can always check back 20 days after the lottery closes. On this date Yoho National Park offers the unclaimed reservation slots to the public.
The Shuttle Bus Ride to Lake O’Hara
If you are lucky enough to have won a Lake O’Hara shuttle bus reservation, you’ll need to arrive at the parking lot 20 minutes early to check-in with the Parks Canada attendant. They will check your photo ID to ensure it matches the name on the shuttle bus reservation
It takes the shuttle bus approximately 20 minutes to reach the Lake O’Hara campground, and an additional 5 minutes to reach the Le Relais Day Shelter. Take note of where the bus stop is, as the bus drivers will not let you board at the Lake O’Hara Lodge.
Although Lake O’Hara is in British Columbia, it is in the Mountain Time Zone. This is the same time zone as Calgary, and is one hour ahead of Vancouver.
2) Camp at Lake O’Hara
Another way to guarantee a Lake O’Hara bus ride is to reserve a backcountry camping site. In early February, campers can attempt to make a reservation for up to three nights at the Lake O’Hara campground via the Parks Canada Reservation Service.
Those successfully making a camping reservation at Lake O’Hara will also be able to make a reservation for the shuttle bus. Do not attempt to game the system. Anyone who makes a camping reservation, but shows up for the shuttle without a tent will be turned away.
For more information about camping at Lake O’Hara, see below.
3) Stay at Lake O’Hara
If backcountry camping isn’t your thing, you can try to get a coveted reservation at one of the two places to stay at Lake O’Hara:
- The Elizabeth Parker Hut (run by the Alpine Club of Canada)
- The Lake O’Hara Lodge
Anyone who successfully makes a reservation is able to make an incoming reservation on the Lake O’Hara bus. See more on these places to stay at Lake O’Hara below.
4) Hiking the Lake O’Hara Road
If all else fails, you can resort to good, old-fashioned walking, and many people who are intent on visiting Lake O’Hara without a shuttle bus ticket do just that. There is no daily limit to the number of people who can hike the access road to Lake O’Hara, but we gather this number is factored into the overall targeted visitation numbers.
It’s not exactly easy to hike the Lake O’Hara Fire Road. From the parking lot, it’s an 11 km one-way hike to the day use area. Over this 11 km hike, you’ll have an elevation gain of approximately 400 m. This will take a typical hiker approximately 2.5 – 3.5 hours to walk one-way.
Keep in mind, you’ll be hiking 11 km before you even get to do any of the ‘real’ Lake O’Hara hiking trails. And, although there’s a chance you can catch a ride back on the shuttle bus (subject to space), you have to count on hiking another 11 km back.
If you elect to hike to Lake O’Hara, see our list of things to bring and make sure you bring plenty of everything, especially bear spray, food and water.
Bikes and ebikes are not allowed on the Lake O’Hara Road
Facilities at Lake O’Hara, Yoho National Park
Ahhh… once you finally make it to the shores of Lake O’Hara you will enjoy a peaceful visit to a pristine wilderness setting in the Canadian Rockies. Despite the remote setting, there are a few facilities to enjoy including benches and picnic tables by the water. But, the facility everyone talks about is the Le Relais day shelter.
Le Relais Day Shelter
There is a building adjacent to the bus stop with a few picnic tables out front. This is the Le Relais day shelter run by the Lake O’Hara Trails Club, who inspire Preservation Through Appreciation.
The Lake O’Hara Trails Club supports trail maintenance, visitor education and advocacy to protect this special area. The money they raise by selling snacks, drinks, books and t-shirts helps support their important work. The LOTC is famous for its carrot cake – buy yours early as it often sells out. Bring cash as they do not accept credit cards.
3 Places to Stay at Lake O’Hara
With such a gorgeous area and limited visitation, it’s no surprise that demand for the places to stay at Lake O’Hara is extremely high. As with the shuttle bus reservations, there is an element of preparation and a lot of luck involved.
1) Lake O’Hara Lodge
In an effort to increase visitation to the Canadian Rockies, the Canadian Pacific Railway built some of the most iconic lodging in the world, including the Banff Springs Hotel, the Chateau Lake Louise and yes, even the Lake O’Hara Lodge. Built in the 1920’s, the Lake O’Hara Lodge remains one of the most sought after accommodations in the Rocky Mountains.
The main lodge features 8 rooms with twin beds and requires a minimum 2-night stay. Alternately, guests can stay in one of the charming lakeside cabins or the cedar cabins (great for families)
Stays at the lodge include all locally inspired meals, afternoon tea and, in season, transportation on the shuttle bus. In winter, guests of the Lake O’Hara Lodge must snowshoe or ski the 11 km from the parking lot to the lodge.
The Lake O’Hara Lodge is not open year round. In the summer & fall, it is typically open mid-June to early October, while in the winter guests can stay between late-January to early April.
2) Lake O’Hara Campground
The Lake O’Hara campground is a reasonably big backcountry campground with 30 sites. As with the shuttle, the demand for a campsite far exceeds availability.
How to Reserve a Lake O’Hara Camping Trip
Log into the Parks Canada reservation system at least 15 minutes before they start taking Yoho National Park camping reservations for the season. At the moment the reservation system opens, you will be assigned a random number in line, based on the total number of people waiting to make a reservation.
When your number in the online queue is called, you will enter the official reservation system. If you are lucky enough to find available campsites then you are in business. You can make up to two reservations at one time, for up to three nights each time.
If you are lucky enough to get a camping reservation, familiarize yourself with the campground facilities and important policies before packing for your Lake O’Hara trip.
3) Elizabeth Parker Hut
Another adventurous option for staying at Lake O’Hara is to stay at the Elizabeth Parker Hut, operated by the Alpine Club of Canada. There are two structures at the Elizabeth Parker Hut – the main hut and the Wiwaxy Cabin, with a combined capacity of 24 guests.
A stay at the Elizabeth Parker Huts is a communal experience, with shared living, cooking and sleeping areas. The basics are provided (foam mattresses and utensils), but otherwise guests must bring their own food, sleeping bags and personal effects. Guests of the Elizabeth Parker ACC Hut also help clean, chop firewood and shovel snow.
In addition to the opportunity to stay overnight in a Canadian Rockies paradise, another big perk of staying at the Elizabeth Parker Huts is getting a coveted spot on a Lake O’Hara shuttle bus.
Baggage Restrictions for the Lake O’Hara Bus
Regardless of where you are staying at Lake O’Hara, be aware of some luggage limitations on the shuttle bus.
- You may bring one large or two small bags per person (maximum weight 25 kg/55 lbs; maximum length 97 cm/38 inches)
- You may bring a soft-sided cooler as long as it fits within your luggage allowance.
- You may not bring loose items, hard-sized coolers, hard-sided storage bins, hammocks, chairs, electronics or musical instruments onto the bus or into the Lake O’Hara campground.
Abbot Pass Hut (Demolished)
The Abbot Pass Hut was formerly the second highest habitable structure in Canada. Located in the Abbot Pass high above Lake Oesa, the Abbot Pass Hut was designated a National Heritage Site in 1992. Sadly, erosion was discovered under the structure and was deemed irreparable and demolished in June 2022.
Stay at Lake Louise or Field, British Columbia
If you managed to secure an early morning bus reservation, or if you intend to walk the access road, you may wish to stay nearby to make your morning a little easier. Keep in mind, to make the 8:30 bus people from Calgary need to depart around 6 AM, while residents of Banff or Canmore need to hit the road by 7-7:15 AM.
If you’d like to sleep in a little longer, a great strategy is to stay nearby in either Lake Louise, or in Field, BC – which are only 10-15 minutes away. There are several good places to stay in Field, but you simply can’t beat a stay at one of the best hotels in Lake Louise.
Lake O’Hara Hiking Season
Each year is different, but the typical hiking season in Lake O’Hara run from July until late-September. Any time before July, you may discover the higher altitude routes are unsafe due to snowpack and avalanche hazards.
Lake O’Hara Hiking Trails
There are a wide variety of hiking trails in the Lake O’Hara area, from leisurely strolls around the lakeshore, to challenging alpine circuits, and everything in-between. Before you go hiking in this special area of Yoho National Park, it is imperative that you check the current Lake O’Hara trail conditions and-or any trail closures.
If you plan on doing any hiking at Lake O’Hara, we recommend you pick up the Lake O’Hara hiking map by Gem Trek. This excellent topographical hiking map makes it easy to plan your route by seeing how the many area trails interconnect.
Below, we list the most popular hiking trails at Lake O’Hara:
The Lakeshore trail is the easiest hike in the Lake O’Hara area. This 2.9 km loop around the lake is a perfect hike for those who are not interested in some of the more challenging alpine hikes. At the far end of the lake, there’s an option for a short spur trail to see the Seven Veils Falls.
Given it only takes about 45 minutes to complete the loop around the lake, it’s also a great hike for anyone with some time to kill before catching their shuttle bus back to the parking lot.
Lake Oesa Trail
The Lake Oesa trail is considered by many to be the best easy hiking trail at Lake O’Hara. The 3.2 km (one-way) trail runs along the Lakeshore trail for about a kilometer, before ascending a short stretch of switchbacks. Once at the top of the switchbacks, it’s a slow and steady incline to Lake Oesa. Along the way you’ll pass Victoria Falls over stone steps made by Banff legend Lawrence Grassi.
We only hiked a short ways along the upper part of the Lake Oesa trail. It was a gorgeous hiking trail along rock steps, through a forest of larch trees with streams and lakes. We saw a noble marmot sunning on a rock overlooking Victoria Lake and could hear more pikas in the surrounding rocks. In fall, the sight of golden larch trees reflecting on the glasslike, turquoise water of Victoria Lake is breathtaking.
West Opabin Trail
There is a very scenic collection of small lakes just below the Oesa Glacier, south of Lake O’Hara. There are many enjoyable hiking trails snaking throughout the larch forest surrounding these lakes, including the 3.2 km West Opabin trail.
The West Opabin hike begins near the peanut-shaped Hungabee Lake and winds its way through a meadow with larch trees, passing several lakes along its way towards Mary Lake. A path of flat rocks leads you through the marshy ground of the meadow, often with a stream running next to the trail.
The final leg of the West Opabin trail is very steep downhill, with views of Mary Lake straight ahead. As you descend, the larch forest gives way to a traditional evergreen forest, often with a towering rock wall soaring overhead.
East Opabin Trail
The 3.2 km East Opabin trail also connects Lake O’Hara to Opabin Lake. From the lakeshore, you’ll hike up a series of switchbacks until you reach the meadow with the lakes. This route is often the preferred route to Opabin Lake as the uphill section is not as steep as on the West Opabin route.
Big Larches Trail
The aptly named Big Larches trail is a beautiful 1.7 km hiking trail connecting the West Opabin trail (near Mary Lake) to Schaffer Lake. At first, the Big Larches hiking trail runs through a lush, traditional evergreen forest, but before long you arrive at the remnants of a rockslide from Mount Schaffer (2,692 m).
It seems at one time, this would have been a large forest of larch trees, but the rockslide engulfed many of these iconic fall trees. There are still plenty of large larch trees remaining along the outskirts of the rockslide, and the Big Larches trail leads you right through them on your way to Schaffer Lake.
In addition to the impressive rockslide and the larch trees, there are many wonderful views from the Big Larches trail. As you climb higher, you’ll enjoy aerial views of Mary Lake and Lake O’Hara. There are also great views of the Wiwaxy Peaks (2,703 m) and Mount Huber (3,368 m), providing a fun glimpse at the alpine circuit hiking trails on those mountains.
Alpine Meadow Trail
The 1.5 km Alpine Meadow trail runs from Schaffer Lake down to the Elizabeth Parker Hut, located in (you guessed it), a beautiful alpine meadow. This trail can be steep at times and runs through a mixed forest of evergreens and larch trees, often with a stream running alongside. From the alpine meadow, you’ll enjoy excellent views of the surrounding mountains.
Lake McArthur Trail
It’s not often you find a figure-8 hiking loop, but the trail from Schaffer Lake to Lake MCarthur is one of them. This 3 km loop trail is a gradual ascent from Schaffer Lake through forest and meadow to the shores of Lake MCarthur.
A visit to the McArthur Lake rewards hikers with incredible scenery. Lake McArthur rests at the foot of the majestic Mt. Biddle (3,319 m), with Park Mountain (2,941 m) and Mount Schaffer along the sides.
Opabin Prospect Trail
Throughout our most recent visit to Lake O’Hara, we kept eyeing a plateau covered with golden larch trees. We figured we’d hike through it as we completed our hiking circuit of the area, but we were disappointed to find out we missed it!
The Opabin Prospect trail is a short hiking loop found off the middle section of the West Opabin Trail. This easy hiking trail has little elevation gain and takes you to the edge of the Opabin Plateau overlooking the Lake O’Hara valley. This is a great spot to stop for lunch, or at a minimum, a great picture.
We made a note to come back and hike this trail through the Opabin Plateau the next time we are visiting Lake O’Hara.
The Lake O’Hara Alpine Circuit
The Lake O’Hara Alpine Circuit is considered by many to be the best day hike in the Canadian Rocky Mountains. The alpine circuit is broken up into four segments, making it easy for hikers to pick the sections they wish to do on any given visit.
Traditionally, the Lake O’Hara Alpine Circuit is done in a clockwise direction starting with the Wiwaxy Gap trail, followed by the Huber Ledges and Yukness Ledges, finishing off with the All Souls Prospect. Some may also add the Odaray Highline to Odaray Grandview Prospect, but there are strict daily visitation limits imposed by Yoho National Park, so you are not guaranteed access.
Alpine Circuit Hiking Safety
- This is a very difficult, and often dangerous alpine hiking route. Please ensure you have the appropriate skills, gear and supplies to successfully complete the portions of the alpine circuit you choose to take on.
- Parks Canada does not recommend alpine hiking prior to July 1 due to late snowpack conditions.
- The Alpine Circuit has been marked with yellow and blue markings throughout the route.
Wiwaxy Gap Alpine Trail
Traditionally the first leg of the Lake O’Hara Alpine Circuit, the Wiwaxy Gap Alpine trail is a very steep trail from the shores of Lake O’Hara to Wiwaxy Gap – a spot in-between the Wiwaxy Peaks and Mount Huber. The Wiwaxy Gap is an outstanding vantage point to enjoy views of the Lake O’Hara amphitheater as well as the mountains beyond.
To get to Wiwaxy Gap, you’ll hike up some short, tight switchbacks with a very steep incline. Along the way you’ll enjoy exceptional views of the alpine lakes and glaciers, walk along rocky ledges, and pass many larch trees.
There are some tight rocky ledges with significant drop-offs on the Wiwaxy Gap Alpine Route, which may affect anyone with a fear of heights. Once at Wiwaxy Gap, you’ll enjoy a nice vista of the Canadian Rockies looking north, including Cathedral Mountain (3,189 m) and Mount Balfour (3,272 m). Looking back towards the Lake O’Hara amphitheater you can see two glaciers, at least 5 lakes and many distant mountains.
Huber Ledges Alpine Route
The Huber Ledges Alpine Route is a genuinely fun hiking trail. The Huber Ledges trail connects the Wiwaxy Gap with Lake Oesa. After a steep slog to Wiwaxy Gap, the mostly downhill Huber Ledges trail feels like a nice reward.
The Huber Ledges trail cuts across a very steep downhill slope along the south face of Mount Huber. Watch your steps carefully here as a misstep could lead to serious trouble.
There are occasional tiny evergreen trees and/or larches, but you’ll be mostly above the tree line, allowing for outstanding views. At some points on the Huber Ledges trail can see as many as seven alpine lakes below you, including Lake Oesa at the far end of this alpine circuit trail.
Along the Huber Ledges trail, we enjoyed two excellent wildlife encounters – a cute little pika and a group of three mountain goats.
Yukness Ledges Alpine Route
An elevated trail running along the lower alpine slopes of Yukness Mountain (2,847 m), the Yukness Ledges trail is an elevated route connecting Lake Oesa to Lake Hungabee. Along the way, it provides some of the best views of Lake O’Hara you can get anywhere.
The Yukness Ledges trail begins through a grassy meadow with large boulders and larch trees scattered about. The views of Odaray Mountain (3,159 m) reflecting in the calm waters of Lake O’Hara below are amazing.
The first half of the trail is very rocky which will slow your pace. The rocks are so covered with lichen that you’ll think they are green.
As you pass the halfway point of the Yukness Ledges trail, you’ll reach the far eastern end of the lake. You’ll get some truly outstanding pictures of Lake O’Hara here.
As you finish the Yukness Ledges trail, the trail surface is much better and you’ll enjoy views of a large larch forest below along with a great sight line to the Opabin Glacier resting below Mount Biddle.
All Souls Prospect
By the time we had completed the first three sections of the Lake O’Hara Alpine Circuit, our legs needed a break, so we chose to visit Schaffer Lake via the West Opabin Trail and Big Larches, rather than via the All Souls Prospect trail.
The 2 km All Souls Prospect trail connects the West Opabin Trail to Schaffer Lake along the northern alpine slopes of Mount Schaffer. The trail is mostly rocks, rock slabs and scree, but a portion of the trail which is crossed by a stream is called, The Hanging Gardens of Babylon, due to the moss and plants which grow nearby.
The 6 Main Lakes of the Lake O’Hara Area
Lake O’Hara (Altitude 2,020 m)
The namesake and star attraction of the area, Lake O’Hara rests at the bottom of an incredible mountain amphitheatre, surrounded by Rocky Mountain peaks on three sides. There is no need for a lengthy walk to get to Lake O’Hara as the shuttle bus drops you off nearby.
Mary Lake (Altitude 2,030 m)
A small, U-shaped lake located just minutes southwest of Lake O’Hara. You can get an excellent view of Mary Lake and her more famous neighbour, Lake O’Hara from the Opabin Prospect trail or the Opabin Prospect trail.
Mary Lake is reached via the southern section of the Lakeshore trail to the West Opabin trail.
Lake Oesa (Altitude 2,267 m)
Dramatically surrounded by the towering peaks of Yukness Mountain, Glacier Peak (3,283 m) and Mount Huber, it’s easy to feel humbled standing at the shores of Lake Oesa.
The easiest way to reach Lake Oesa is via the 2.9 km Lake Oesa trail, but it is also located at the end of two of the Lake O’Hara Alpine Circuit Trails: the Huber Ledges route and the Yukness Ledges route.
Opabin Lake (Altitude 2,277 m)
Fed by the nearby Opabin Glacier, Opabin Lake is the highest of the many lakes scattered throughout the Opabin Plateau. Opabin Lake is tightly hugged by the dramatic ridges of Yukness Mountain and Schaffer Ridge.
The easiest way to reach Opabin Lake from Lake O’Hara is via the East Opabin trail or West Opabin trail, which are often combined to make the Opabin Lake Loop. The approximate one-way distance from Lake O’Hara to Opabin Lake is 3.3 km. Opabin Lake can also be reached via the Lake O’Hara Alpine Circuit on the Yukness Ledges Alpine Route.
A stream from Opabin Lake flows through a series of several smaller lakes before reaching Lake O’Hara. These additional lakes in the Opabin Plateau include Hungabee Lake, the Moore Lakes and the Cascade Lakes.
Schaffer Lake (Altitude 2,170 m)
A small alpine lake with larch trees on the lower slopes on Mount Schaffer, Schaffer Lake sits at the crossroads of several Lake O’Hara hiking trails and is often visited by those continuing onwards to Lake McArthur.
Schaffer Lake can be reached from Lake O’Hara via the Alpine Meadows trail or the Big Larches trail. The Lake O’Hara Alpine Circuit reaches Schaffer Lake via the All Souls Alpine Route. The McArthur Pass trail continues on past Schaffer Lake to Lake McArthur.
Lake McArthur (Altitude 2,251 m)
Yet another alpine lake surrounded on three sides by soaring Rocky Mountain peaks, Lake McArthur is a truly stunning location in Yoho National Park. Not only are there larch trees around McArthur Lake, but Biddle Glacier is very photogenic sitting on the middle slopes of Mount Biddle.
There is a loop trail to Lake McArthur from Lake Schaffer. The two halves of the loop are called the Lake McArthur Low Level Trail and the Lake McArthur High Level trail.
What to Bring to Lake O’Hara
Given the remote location of Lake O’Hara, you’ll need to give some careful thought as to what to bring with you. Parks Canada recommends you dress in layers and bring sunscreen, hat, gloves, and rain gear and wear sturdy shoes or hiking boots.
In addition to the Parks Canada recommendations, we recommend you also bring:
- Cash for the snack bar (carrot cake!)
- Bear spray, in a holster (not inside your daybag)
- Collapsible hiking poles if you intend to do any alpine hiking
- A good hiking daybag to store your unused layers. Bonus points if you have room for a hydration pack.
- A small first aid kit in case of a spill on the shale
- A small garbage bag to haul out your trash
- High energy snacks such as trail mix, energy bars, etc.
- Trail maps downloaded onto a hiking app, like AllTrails.
Please note that while every effort has been made to provide timely and accurate information, please confirm your important details with Parks Canada before setting out for Lake O’Hara.
Lake O’Hara FAQ
Can I ride my bike to Lake O’Hara?
No, you may not ride your bike to Lake O’Hara. All bikes (including e-bikes) are prohibited on the Lake O’Hara Fire Road.
Is Lake O’Hara in Banff National Park?
No, Lake O’Hara is not in Banff National Park, although it is very close. Lake O’Hara is located just 4 km west of Banff, in Yoho National Park, in British Columbia.
When Can I Go Hiking at Lake O’Hara?
As it is weather dependant, the dates will change year-to-year, but the main hiking season in Lake O’Hara area runs July through late-September.